On 9 August 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published a landmark assessment of available scientific knowledge on climate change.
We expect the report’s key findings to be a critical driver of climate policy worldwide as governments strengthen decarbonisation commitments ahead of the key COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in November.
Crucially, its summary for policymakers containing its key findings is approved line-by-line by delegates representing 195 governments worldwide, reinforcing the report’s credibility and providing common ground for international climate negotiations.
Several major new decarbonisation initiatives have already been announced this year by the world’s biggest economies, such as China’s nationwide emissions trading system, Europe’s “Fit for 55” package of policies and legislation to accelerate the decarbonisation of the entire European Union economy, and the US pledge to cut emissions in half by 2030 .
We expect a big proportion of near-term decarbonisation efforts to be focused on reducing emissions from power generation, and electrification of other sectors such as automobiles and transportation. Increasingly, we see new opportunities emerging in clean energy technologies such as hydrogen. Businesses are increasingly positioning themselves for this energy transition.
The latest IPCC report, known as the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6), benefits from eight years’ worth of new research, observations and technological progress since the IPCC’s last assessment of climate science. The 4,000-page report has 234 authors from 65 countries and draws on 14,000 scientific publications.
Its key findings include:
• The Earth’s surface is warming at the fastest pace in over 2,000 years and is now at its hottest in about 125,000 years.
Each of the last four decades has been successively warmer than any preceding decade since 1850 (Exhibit 1).
Exhibit 1: Current pace of global warming is the greatest in over 2,000 years
Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report (2021).
Note: Changes in global surface temperature reconstructed from paleoclimate archives (solid grey line, 1–2000) and from direct observations (solid black line, 1850–2020), both relative to 1850–1900 and decadally averaged.
Human activity contributed to an estimated 1.07°C increase in the global surface temperature from 1850-1900 to 2010-2019. “We need to look back to at least the previous interglacial period, around 125,000 years ago, to find evidence for multi-centennial global surface temperatures that were warmer than now,” the IPCC said in a statement accompanying the report.
• There is a direct, near-linear relationship between cumulative CO2 emissions due to human activity and the global warming they cause.
This direct relationship implies that reducing global CO2 emissions to net zero is necessary to stabilise human-induced global warming at any temperature level.
Exhibit 2: Global warming increases almost linearly with CO2 emissions, which means net emissions must be reduced to zero to limit further warming
Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report (2021).
Note: The five illustrative scenarios ‘SSPx-y’ cover the range of possible future development of human drivers of climate change covered in the scientific literature. ‘SSPx’ refers to the shared socio-economic pathway (SSP) describing the socio-economic trends underlying the scenario, and ‘y’ refers to the approximate level of radiative forcing (a measure of the heating effect on the Earth’s surface caused by atmospheric greenhouse gases, in watts per square metre) resulting from the scenario in the year 2100.
It also means that keeping global warming to a specific level such as the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C goal would require limiting further CO2 emissions to within a “carbon budget”.
• To limit global warming to 2.0°C with a 50% probability, the remaining global carbon budget is estimated at no more than 1,350 billion tonnes of CO2 (GtCO2) emissions.
For a fair (50%) chance at limiting warming to 1.5°C, the remaining carbon budget is estimated to be only 500 GtCO2. This is equivalent to just 12.5 years’ worth of emissions at the current pace, based on the estimated 2020 global emissions of 40 GtCO2 by the Global Carbon Project, or less than 10 years’ worth based on the 59.1 GtCO2 emitted in 2019, according to the United Nations Environment Programme’s 2020 Emissions Gap Report.
Exhibit 3: Remaining global carbon budget to limit warming to 1.5°C estimated at no more than 500 billion tonnes of CO2, equivalent to less than 10 years’ worth of 2019 emissions
Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report (2021).
Note: Global CO2 emissions reached 59.1 GtCO2 in 2019, according to the United Nations Environment Programme’s 2020 Emissions Gap Report
What are the key implications?
On the current trajectory, extreme weather events – already occurring with greater frequency and severity than in the past – will become even more likely to occur, and with greater intensity.
Hot temperature extremes over land that would be expected to occur only once every 50 years in the pre-industrial era are now 4.8 times more likely to occur, and such heatwaves will become even more frequent and severe as the world warms further. Similarly, extreme rainfall and snowstorms, as well as droughts, would also become more frequent and severe (Exhibit 4).
The rising frequency of such extreme weather events across the world – including a record-cold winter in Texas in early 2021 that froze critical parts of its power grid and led to widespread blackouts, leaving millions without electricity or water, and more recently deadly floods in China’s Henan province as well as parts of Europe that killed more than 200 people and forced over a million more to relocate – serves as a devastating reminder that the cost of doing too little to improve the climate resilience of infrastructure and other parts of the economy could eventually be far greater than the cost of investing in adaptation and mitigation measures before disaster strikes.
Exhibit 4: Extreme weather events will occur even more frequently in future – and with greater intensity
Source: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report (2021).
Note: The period 1850–1900 represents the earliest period of sufficiently globally complete observations to estimate global surface temperature and is
used as an approximation for pre-industrial conditions.
“The science has been certain for decades, but the latest report makes it abundantly clear – the climate crisis is not only here, it is growing
increasingly severe,” US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry said. “What the world requires now is real action. All major economies must commit to aggressive climate action during this critical decade.”
New opportunities emerging
Decarbonising the world economy by 2050 to meet the Paris Agreement goals requires further deep cuts in carbon emissions across the full range of economic activity including power generation, industry, transport and agriculture.
These cuts will require heavy investments within the next few years to ensure that global emissions peak by around 2030 – a key milestone to set the world economy on a path that limits global warming to 1.5°C by the end of the century. Our view is that global efforts to pursue sustainable, climate-resilient development paths and mitigate the threat of climate change will drive wide-ranging, significant changes to the global economy for years to come.
This will mean profound structural changes to the way the world economy works – creating both significant disruption and new opportunities for businesses. We also expect geopolitical rivalry between China, the US and Europe to be a key driver of government policy and investments in clean energy and related technology.
The required investments span electricity generation – especially wind and solar energy – buildings, appliances, transport and industry, as well as supporting infrastructure and advanced clean technologies such as carbon capture and storage, that would create options to complete the transition to net zero emissions beyond 2030. In the US, setting the economy on a net-zero transition path requires at least USD2.5 trillion of new capital investment by 2030, according to a recent Princeton University study.
Meanwhile, China is estimated to need well over CNY100 trillion of new investment in energy infrastructure over 2020-2050 to set it on a pathway consistent with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C goal, according to a study by Tsinghua University’s Institute for Climate Change and Sustainable Development. In Europe, where the low-carbon transition is already well under way, the European Union has unveiled a sweeping package of proposals, known as “Fit for 55", designed to fundamentally reshape the EU economy over the next decade and beyond.
Increasingly, we see new opportunities emerging in clean energy technologies such as hydrogen, which is attractive as a low-carbon energy source to decarbonise a wide range of economic activity such as power generation, transport, and heating and power for buildings.
China’s Inner Mongolia region recently approved a new hydrogen project that will use 1.85 gigawatts of solar and 370 megawatts of wind to produce 66,900 tonnes of hydrogen a year.
In Europe, efforts are ongoing to integrate the use of renewable hydrogen into the European Union’s energy mix, including plans to install at least 6 gigawatts of renewable hydrogen electrolysers across the EU and produce up to 1 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen by 2024.
A recent analysis by Bloomberg NEF indicates that demand for hydrogen would need to rise sharply for the world economy to reach net zero emissions by 2050, unless carbon capture and storage technologies are developed that allow traditional fossil fuels such as coal and oil and gas to remain a significant part of the energy mix.
The rapid decline in the cost of renewable energy in recent years has been a critical driver of increasingly widespread adoption of clean technologies.
In 2020, worldwide spending on renewable energy, electrification of heating and transport, and other energy transition initiatives reached a record USD501 billion despite the severe disruption from Covid-19. We expect this to grow further over the next few years.
Businesses that anticipate and adapt successfully to these changes stand to benefit from the reshaped economic landscape as policymakers worldwide strengthen their response to the threat of climate change.
Various new opportunities are emerging for businesses and investors, including opportunities in decarbonisation technologies such as carbon capture and storage, as well as renewable energy.
Given the all-encompassing nature of decarbonisation efforts worldwide and the fast-evolving but uneven rollout of supporting legislation and regulations across the world, we continue to believe that a strategy of adding diversified exposure to a wide range of potential beneficiaries of the global transition to a carbon neutral economy is appropriate.Disclaimer applicable to recommendation
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Version: July 2020